We Are One(s)

In One But Not the Same, Pastor Chris Williamson challenges us on our divisive “churchanity” and renews the call for unity and diversity in the body of Christ. Plus, his surprising views on Glenn Beck, Al Sharpton, and political parties.
(more…)

We’re All Outsiders

Person in Exile for Urban FaithAs Christians, we are exiles who follow an alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah. Shouldn’t we, then, have a more compassionate and unified voice in the immigration debate?

There’s a scene in the film Food, Inc. that reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of U.S. immigration policy: In Tar Heel, North Carolina, Hispanic workers at a Smithfield Foods packing plant are rounded up by ICE agents (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in a pre-dawn raid. A politician running for office would narrate such a scene by saying that these men and women, while perhaps hard workers, are in the U.S. illegally and if the rule of law is going to mean anything in this country, they must be picked up and sent to a detention center where the legal process can run its course.

But the film tells the true story: After NAFTA caused cheap American corn to flood Mexican markets, putting even prosperous Mexican corn farmers out of business, many fled to the U.S., desperate for work to support their families. Many others were actively recruited by corporations like Smithfield to work dangerous jobs in American factories. Government raids, like the one depicted in the movie, are carried out in collusion with the senior management of companies like Smithfield to “send a message” (to Americans, to the undocumented) while never really interfering with the company’s production line or, more importantly, its bottom line.

The dominant narrative — the one about illegality, rule of law, blah, blah, blah — is persuasive because it provokes and exploits the one emotion that has driven American politics since 9/11: fear. We’re told by critics and commentators that Americans have never been so angry, that our public discourse has never been this strident and dangerously uncivil — all the red-faced name-calling, the ugly race-baiting, the shrill, snarky meanness.

But much of the anger — at least the real anger, not the feigned rage of opportunistic politicians — is symptomatic of Americans’ deep-seated xenophobia. This fear has been carefully cultivated since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was crucial in rallying the country to support two insupportable wars. As a political strategy it was brilliant; it worked so well that now many Americans fear their own duly-elected president. They hate him too, of course, and they’re mad as hell at him, but all that hate and rage start with an irrational anger that continues to be stoked shamelessly by that most misnamed of all political groups in a purportedly civil society: the Tea Party.

The anti-immigration bill signed into law recently in Arizona is an unsurprising outcome of this ongoing collective fear of outsiders. When I heard the news, I was reminded of a book published last year, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Authors Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang deftly link legislation, work visas, border patrols, ICE raids, and green cards to the Hebrew scriptures’ insistence that “Israel’s very identity was tied to how they treated the foreign born” and to the truth that the New Testament’s “most notable refugee was Jesus himself.”

In a review of the book I noted that Soerens and Hwang challenge any reader who claims to follow Jesus to consider immigration through Scripture’s insistence that we see ourselves as a people in exile: sojourners in a foreign land who live not by claiming “our rights” over and against so-called outsiders, but solely by the mercy and grace of a generous, hospitable God.

We are exiles who follow an alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah. As Edgardo Colón-Emeric notes (in the sermon linked above), “Jesus did not have a valid birth certificate. Mother’s name: Mary; Father’s name: unknown. In fact, Jesus had no papers in his name, no title deed, no rental contract. Nothing. ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’ ”

A phrase formerly associated with interrogators of the Third Reich — “let me see your papers” — will now enter the lexicon of law enforcement in Arizona. Jesus — in the guise of the brown-skinned “other” — will be asked for documentation he doesn’t have. And unless his followers practice the kind of perfect love that casts out all phobos (1 John 4:18), fear, on both sides of these encounters, will have won the day.

O, Arizona

O, Arizona for Urban Faith

One Latino pastor’s open letter to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona before the passage of the state’s strict new immigration law.

The following open letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, by New York pastor Gabriel Salguero, appeared at Sojourner’s God’s Politics blog prior to the passage of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law. Needless to say, Gov. Brewer was not persuaded by the letter. But Rev. Salguero’s points are still helpful to consider as the debate over immigration reform intensifies in our nation. — Editor

Esteemed Governor Brewer:

My wife and I are both Evangelical pastors who have unrelenting commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our parents are ministers and from an early age we were taught that a fundamental tenet of the Gospel is to love your neighbor and be hospitable to the stranger. It is with this commitment in mind that I write to you asking you to veto SB 1070.

The bill navigates dangerously close to an enforcement policy which lends itself to the very dangerous and undemocratic practice of racial profiling. In this country we have not required or insisted on people carrying documentation to prove their citizenship. If this law passes I run the danger of being arrested or detained for DRIVING WHILE BROWN in Arizona. This is not in keeping with the highest and most noble of U.S. ideals. If this law were enacted, my 90-year-old grandfather who is a World War II veteran could be detained without cause. Worse still, clergy and all people of good will who are called to serve all people regardless of race, gender, or birth origin would be exposed to being arrested and detained for following their call as servants of God. As Christians we cannot refuse to serve and love the immigrant, legal or not. The Gospel requires more of us.

What seems to me most troubling about SB 1070 is that it threatens to divide children from their parents and underline enforcement without providing any real common-sense and workable solutions to immigration challenges. Governor, by vetoing SB 1070 you have the opportunity to show real courage and leadership in a way that history will judge with honorable distinction.

Enforcement without comprehensive immigration reform is not the way forward. Comprehensive immigration reform is the way forward in ways that Arizona and the rest of the country win. Some time ago I blogged on The Washington Post website about why comprehensive immigration reform is what is best for this country. I send you some of my thoughts from that blog here, praying that it will influence you to do the wise and humane thing and veto SB 1070. Perhaps your veto will once again spark the conscience of this country to remember that the truest test of America’s character is how it treats the stranger, widow, and orphan.

• The economic question: They are a burden on our tax and economic system; why don’t they go home? Studies show that the close to 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom already pay taxes and Social Security, want to continue to contribute to the system. Comprehensive immigration reform should require these immigrants to pay back taxes, learn English, and wait in line behind the people who entered legally. The system as is does not allow for this integration nor does it address unscrupulous employers who exploit cheap labor. A new system that requires these immigrants to integrate and employers and employees to pay taxes will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. The status quo does not in any way address this challenge; reform does. Reform can help the economy. The U.S. can and should have the creative genius to make this a win-win for all.

• The moral question: How do we balance respect for the rule of law and compassion for all people? This is a fair question. I think we should respect the law and that’s why any reform should include requiring the following: paying back-taxes, penalties to employers who may have circumvented the system, and borders being controlled and supervised in humane ways. Nevertheless, what do we do with the 12 million men, women, and children that are already here? Deportation is not reasonable and it remains beyond our economic capacities. In short, reform must include both respect for the rule of law and a way that integrates all people in common sense ways. Enforcement only is both a drain on our local law enforcement and economy and does not in any competent way address the issue of the millions of people here. THE LAW IS BROKEN. LET’S FIX IT.

• The faith question: What does the Church or my faith have to do with it? Simply stated, as a Christian I am mandated to love my neighbor as myself without prejudice to origin, color, or creed. Jesus himself reminds Christians to “welcome the stranger” in Matthew 25. In addition, the Torah of the Hebrew scriptures reminds us continually to be kind and merciful to the stranger, widow, and orphan. In the end a nation is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable among them. My faith compels me to speak for and with the immigrants and their families. Love thy neighbor does not have a border limitation.

Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to the highest of our values. If Christ welcomed me unconditionally, should I do any less with others?

Sincerely,
Rev. Gabriel Salguero